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What to Do If Your Pet Passes Away at Home

If your family’s beloved pet passes away unexpectedly at home, would you know what to do? If not, you’re not alone. People ask us “what to do” on a regular basis. Here you will learn 8 things you’ll need to do in order to calmly handle the situation.

When you made the decision to home your beloved pet, the majority of us do our homework. Topics of conversation and planning revolve around house breaking, cage training, socialization and overall behavior. Unless you adopt a senior dog or one with a disability, rarely does the topic of pet death ever come up. In this blog, we’ll review the necessary actions that every pet parent or owner should know when their pet dies at home unexpectedly.

First and foremost, as strange as it sounds, make sure that your pet is deceased. All too often, people think their pet has died, only to discover that they are still alive. This is because they are breathing very shallow and lying still. Most likely they are transitioning and death is near. Don’t be afraid, this is normal. (Note: If your feel the pet is in distress, you may want to think about euthanizing. Please call your vet clinic, they can answer your questions. If you were planning to let them die naturally, keep the area calm and quiet).

After your pet dies, typically their bowels will release. This may not happen immediately. (If your pet is dehydrated or hasn’t eaten, this may not occur.) Don’t be alarmed, just be prepared as nature is simply taking its course. If your pet is lying on the floor or a piece of furniture, you’ll want to place some a towel or even plastic under their hind end immediately. This can also occur with your pet’s head, blood or saliva may leak from their nose and mouth – again, this is completely normal so don’t be scared.

If you have other pets at home, let them smell their friend. By allowing this to happen they will understand what happened to their buddy. Otherwise, they will wonder where they went. Your pet will know naturally what to do. Should they act strangely, it’s alright. The scent of the deceased pet is what the living pets need. This can be accomplished by being in the same room.

Some people want to keep their pet at home for a day, which is completely fine. We understand if you want to spend time with your pet before we collect them or before you bring them to us. There is no rush, and you must take your time. We advise that you keep your pet wrapped up in blankets. Why? Without being placed in cold storage, the pet’s body will begin to decompose. One stage of this process is known as rigor mortis. This is when the energy supply to the pet’s muscles deplete. When this occurs, everything becomes stiff. The average time for “rigor” to set in is 3-4 hours and its typically complete within 12 hours post death.

If you come home and your pet died while you were away, you’ll need to attempt to figure out how long the pet has been deceased. If rigor mortis has set in, you’ll know it was at least 3 hours. Depending on the time of year, if it’s warm outside, you may have an odor that could be difficult getting out of your carpet or even floor. Don’t try to remove this smell out of your carpet/floor yourself, consult a professional.

In closing, the loss of a pet is never easy. It’s especially hard to remain calm and think through what to do if it’s a sudden onset illness or accident. For most of us, we’ve never walked this journey before.

We ask that if you know your pet is unwell or are expecting them to pass soon, try and prepare as much as possible because then you can enjoy the time you have left with them rather than worrying about the what-ifs. Although we know it’s extremely difficult and some of us don’t ever want to even bear the thought of our pet’s leaving us, try your best to prepare in advance and you will thank yourself in the long run.


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